ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It isn't the first time Matthew Stafford has had to stand in front of his locker at the end of the season and discuss losing a head coach. He was here in 2013, too, in almost the same spot, when the quarterback talked about Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan losing their jobs.
It's a different time for Stafford now. He's an older quarterback, a more mature player and someone who has played with much more consistency. The Detroit Lions have much more invested, too, as they signed him to an NFL-high $135 million contract in August.
On Monday, Stafford was asked about whether he'd like to see offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter return even though Jim Caldwell was fired on Monday. And he definitely seemed to give Cooter a vote of confidence.
"Jim Bob and I have a great relationship. Ever since he's had an opportunity to take the reins, this offense has moved in the right direction in my opinion," Stafford said. "I feel like I'm playing some of the best football of my career, so I would love to have the opportunity to keep working with him. He's been good for us and good for me."
On Monday, Lions general manager Bob Quinn said his first priority is finding a head coach to replace Caldwell. Then he'll worry about the offensive coordinator and what Stafford thinks. Quinn also said the new head coach will have full autonomy over his staff, meaning Quinn won't require a head coach to keep Cooter on staff.
"I’m trying to find the best head coach and if the best head coach wants to keep that going, then that’s something we can talk about," Quinn said. "But my first focus is the head coach. We’ll worry about the offensive coordinator, quarterback after that."
The Lions' offense has been better under Cooter than it was under his predecessor, Joe Lombardi, who was fired by Detroit after a 1-6 start to the 2015 season. Cooter was promoted then, and Stafford has continued to improve.
Since Week 8 of the 2015 season, when Cooter went from quarterbacks coach to coordinator, Stafford has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 11,169 yards, 73 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Cooter also created his playbook with some input from Stafford before the 2016 season. They have continually worked well together, along with quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan.
There have been criticisms of Cooter, too. His game plans, particularly in 2017, seemed predictable. The Lions still couldn't find a run game -- now having gone 68 games without a 100-yard rusher. And the offensive line struggled to protect Stafford, who has been sacked 112 times since Cooter took over.
It's not clear, though, how much of the predictability and rushing woes came from Caldwell's preferred style, Cooter's offense or a combination of the two. But Cooter seems to have the support of Detroit's offensive players. And they'd like to see him stay.
"I'd love it. Just what he's done in a matter of, he's a young coordinator and last year was his first full year and I think we made strides last year with everybody coming in and being new to the system, to this year," receiver Marvin Jones said. "He's definitely a bright mind and somebody that obviously we want to see in the future. I know he's done a lot for Matt, he's done a lot for us in terms of our expectations and having that bar set high for the whole offense and everybody individually. So yeah, most definitely."
Likely, though, Cooter's fate with the Lions will come down to who general manager Bob Quinn hires as a head coach and what that coach's philosophy will be. But if Detroit does change its offense, it'll be Stafford's fourth offensive coordinator and fourth offensive system.
And that could hold the Lions back. So keeping Cooter -- again, depending on who Detroit hires as its head coach -- could be an attempt at offensive continuity for a group that had two 1,000-yard receivers and finally found a way to keep tight end Eric Ebron consistently involved the second half of the season. Ebron, whose own future with Detroit is in question, said "Jim Bob's cool with me, man. I never had a problem with JB. Cool with me."
"I think continuity is important in this league to a certain extent and I voiced my opinions earlier, just a second ago, about our guys on the offensive staff," Stafford said. "I think they do a good job. I think the offense is going in the right direction.
"I think our team is close, so we'll see what happens."